A young girl who may have witnessed her grandmother's fatal shooting more than two years ago will not be called to testify in her mother's upcoming murder trial, the Franklin County prosecutor said Wednesday.
The decision will please the girl's family, who had been concerned about the possibility of her being forced to testify against her mother, Tashia L. Stuart, Shawn Sant said. She was 7 when her grandmother was killed in her Pasco home.
The girl had been considered a key witness in the prosecution's case.
Last October, the judge ruled she was competent to testify because she understands the difference between truth and lies, and has sufficient memory of the events of March 3, 2011. However, there have been some discrepancies in her interviews, including when she talked to police within hours of the shooting and again six months later.
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Stuart, 40, is charged in Franklin County Superior Court with first-degree murder with aggravated circumstances and attempted first-degree murder.
Prosecutors allege she killed Judy Hebert, 58, after the two women argued about money.
Stuart, her daughter and her husband had been living with Hebert on Salmon Drive for a couple of months. She has claimed self-defense in the murder, saying she shot Hebert after her mother came at her with an ax.
Stuart's trial starts Tuesday after the holiday weekend, and is expected to last about four weeks.
The clerk's office is calling in 190 prospective jurors.
Bob Thompson, one of Stuart's attorneys, said the defense has "no intent of causing more hardship to this child" by telling the jury that the girl will corroborate her mother's statements.
He added that the defense is trying to protect the girl.
Thompson, who talked about the matter with Sant during a court recess, said the decision not to call her will resolve a lot of problems in the case.
The defense wanted to interview the daughter if prosecutors planned to call her.
Judge Cameron Mitchell said given the agreement, the court will not allow the girl to be called for testimony.
"I think that both parties have made a good effort here to minimize further damage to this young child, and I appreciate that," Mitchell said. "So she will not be allowed to be called by either party at this point for any purpose. And if something changes, then I will have to deal with that. ... That is the court's order."
The charges against Stuart include the allegation that 11 days before Hebert's death, Stuart set up her mother to be in the garage when a 32-pound plastic bin fell from the rafters. Hebert was hit but not severely hurt.
Stuart's estranged husband, Todd Stuart, was acquitted by a jury last fall of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the garage incident.
Hebert reportedly made statements to friends and neighbors before she was killed that she suspected her daughter was up to something.
Those statements can be used in the trial because of a state law that says a defendant may not kill a witness and then argue that the witness is not available to testify.
Earlier this month, Thompson and co-counsel Peter Connick asked the Washington state Court of Appeals to take up the issue because they don't have the opportunity to cross-examine Hebert.
A court commissioner recently said the matter will not be heard by an appeals panel because the law is clear.
Also Wednesday, Mitchell refused to dismiss the case on defense claims that Stuart's rights were violated when Franklin County jail staff took legal documents from her cell during a search.
The judge said there is no evidence that prosecutors read the contents that will put the state at a tactical advantage, or the defense at a disadvantage for violation of attorney-client privilege.
Mitchell, though, said he does have some concern about the length of time between the request to get the items returned and when Stuart actually received them.
w Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer